medium-size. medium-sized

Earlier this month, I emailed Merriam-Webster the following question. Associate Editor Neil S. Serven replied.

Q: Is it “medium-size,” or “medium-sized”? I know you’re unable to say which one is correct; are you able to say which one is more common?

A: Our citation database shows a slight preference for –size, but the sample isn’t huge.

You’ve Been Making This Grammatical Mistake Your Whole Life Without Realizing It

Here’s the sentence:

“I’m one of those lucky people whose job is an extension of his hobby.”

What’s wrong with it?

Nothing, at least upon first reading.

But as my colleague and brilliant wordsmith, Paul Stregevsky, patiently explained to me, the sentence should be,

“I’m one of those lucky people whose jobs are extensions of their hobbies.”

Huh? (If you have that same reaction, rest assured, you’re in good company.)

Take it away, Paul:

Consider these two sentences, if they were uttered by Melania Trump:

1. I’m one of those women who sometimes wants to murder my husband. (Not grammatical.)

2. I’m one of those women who sometimes want to murder their husbands. (Grammatical.)

3. I’m one of those women who sometimes wants to murder her husband. (Not grammatical.)

4. I’m one of those women who sometimes want to murder my husband. (Grammatical.)

Mind you, sentence 1 is not grammatical. But let’s imagine it were. Do you understand why sentence 1 means something radically different from the meaning she intended?

Sentence 1, if it were grammatical, would have to mean, “Like many women, I sometimes want to murder Donald Trump.” And that's not what you intended, is it?

Sentence 2 means, “Many women sometimes want to murder their own husbands. I, do, too.”

Sentence 3 is a blend of the two: It’s faithful to the grammatical number of sentence 1 and the grammatical person intended by sentence 2. In effect, it splits the difference. But it, too, would be grammatically wrong.

Let’s try it again, with a more perverted scenario:

Sentence 1: I’m one of those dads who sometimes imagines banging my daughter.

Sentence 2: I’m one of those dads who sometimes imagines banging their daughters.

In sentence 1, are you trying to say that many dads want to bang your daughter? Because that’s what it must mean.

Here’s another example:

“I’m a change agent who rolls up my sleeves to get things done.”

Grammatically, the sentence should be,

“I’m a change agent who rolls up his sleeves to get things done.”

Again, here’s Paul:

Well, what a coincidence: I, too, am a change agent who rolls up Jonathan Rick’s sleeves to get things done.

At least, that’s what your wording suggests is possible.

The singular vs. plural choice is merely an artifact of the first-person vs. third-person choice. Once we establish that the grammatical number is driven by whatever agent is doing the rolling up (people), we must follow through and complete the sentence in the same grammatical person (third/he).

In other words: The pronoun must be third-person (“her sleeves”), not first (“my sleeves”).

Latino. Hispanic

“Latino” has to do with geography, while “Hispanic” has to do with language.

“Latino” means from Latin America, while “Hispanic” means from a Spanish-speaking country.

So Brazilians are Latino but not Hispanic (because they speak Portuguese).

[No Excuses: Immigration - Skimm’tionary]

How a Comma Killed Tiffany Trump

In a recent tweet, our new president wrote:

Sadly, Trump knows nothing about grammar. If he did, he’d have written:

“My daughter Tiffany” (without the comma).



“My daughter Tiffany” means he has multiple daughters, whereas “My daughter, Tiffany” means he has only one.

Commas can kill.

Here’s another example:

“If you’re like to meet my friend, Susan, please join us for dinner.”

means I have only one friend.


“If you’d like to meet my friend Susan, please join for us dinner.”

means Susan is one of my friends.

reposition. diminish

Mr. Baquet and Mr. Kahn said the shift to digital publishing demanded a “smaller and more focused newsroom.”

They added that the reconfiguration should be viewed as “a necessary repositioning of the Times’s newsroom, not as a diminishment.”

New York Times Study Calls for Rapid Change in Newsroom

refurbish. modernize

“We refurbished our weapons to make them safer and more reliable,” Mr. Moniz said, choosing his words with precision. “We didn’t modernize.”

Modernization, he said, “is what Russia is doing and China is doing,” which, he acknowledged, could jeopardize Mr. Obama’s vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.

“Learning Curve” As Rick Perry Pursues a Job He Initially Misunderstood

Why Typos Matter

Because this:

“He put a little distance between himself and his brother.”

means the opposite of this:

“He put little distance between himself and his brother.”

All because of a one-letter word.

Related: Why Typos Matter

Is This a Dangling Modifier?

I recently asked language expert Paul Stregevsky the following question:

Q: Press critic Jack Shafer recently wrote, “Grown fond of Kelly in the evening, will they really switch to Kelly in the afternoon?”

I completely understand what Shafer is saying, but, from a strict grammatical viewpoint, isn’t this an example of a dangling modifier? Shouldn’t the first word after the comma refer to the viewers — something like this:

“Grown fond of Kelly in the evening, they may not readily switch to Kelly in the afternoon.”

A: ​I have asked myself this question many times! Without consulting Garner, I would say that the answer is this:

Technically, it is not a dangling modifier​ because “they” is the grammatical subject.

But, to a careful reader, this construction can disrupt expectations in the same way as a dangling modifier! It looks like a dangler and reads like a dangler.

It’s better avoided. But personally, I would probably use it, then smugly defend it when challenged. :)

Do you know the difference between “forego” and “forgo”?

Now you do, thanks to the Wall Street Journal’s Style and Substance column:

forego: to go before

forgo: to abstain from

When Adjectives Become Nouns

“Still another bugbear arises whenever common usage employs a word as a different part of speech from the one we are accustomed to. Above and following are now frequently used as nouns whereas they previously were adjectives, and there has been a great deal of hubbub about that development ... But such conversions are not unusual: In medicine we have prophylactics and sedatives, in military life we have privates, regulars and offensives, and more recently in broadcasting we have documentaries, visuals and specials. The list could go on and on. Nor would it be confined to the conversion of adjectives into nouns. It is just as common to find nouns doing duty as adjectives, beginning with such inconspicuous ones as rail road and stock yard and going on to population explosion and atom bomb agreement. The conversions are not always felicitous, but they cannot be forbidden as a class.”

Theodore Bernstein

You’ve Been Using These Words Wrong, and You Didn’t Even Know It!

When we use the verb spike, it means something has risen sharply, and then fallen. We sometimes misuse it to refer to an increase.

Similarly, dip means a decline followed by a rise, not just a decline.

Thanks, Wall Street Journal!

On Qualifying Sweeping Statements

“Grand claims are qualified in ways that result in accurate, if sometimes awkward, phrase-making. Clinton wanted to set a goal in his 2000 State of the Union address of making America the safest country in the world. He had to settle for the ‘safest big country in the world’; senior policy advisers warned that the United States was never going to top little Iceland or Denmark.”

Jeff Shesol

Teachers! Please don’t make your students use synonyms for “said,” he opined

Take it away, Gabriel Roth:

“Replacing the word ‘said’ with ‘colorful’ or ‘lively’ synonyms is a ubiquitous symptom of bad writing. Individual instances are usually redundancies: ‘I’ll never cheat again!’ is recognizable as a promise without ‘he vowed’ after it. But a procession of ‘she explained’ and ‘he chuckled’ and ‘I expostulated’ — the reporting verbs that clog your dialogue when you follow the ‘never say said’ rule — is worse, because they force the reader’s attention away from the content of the writing and onto the writer’s hunt for synonyms ... Successful writing modulates the lavishness of its diction for effect, rather than cranking the dial all the way to maximum floridity and leaving it there.”

Aaron Sorkin Explains Why Profanity Is Sometimes Necessary

“Rhythmically, and for other reasons too, the line should be, ‘Put together an American military response scenario that doesn’t make me think we’re docking somebody’s Goddamn allowance.’ ‘Somebody’s damn allowance’ — there is just a hitch in that that’s wrong, and I could not come up with a two-syllable invective at all.”

Aaron Sorkin

Why Journalists Are Better Writers Than Professors (It’s Not Their Fault)

“One reason journalists write well is that journalists write for money: They write for readers. Historically, under the system of scholarly publishing—academic journals and university presses—scholars write for nothing. They have been able to afford to do this because they are paid salaries by the universities that employ them. (Academics rarely meet deadlines because their failure to meet them seldom has any consequence; in this way, too, they are not treated like writers.) And, while academic journals and university presses like to have readers who will pay for what they publish, they have been able to do without them; their publications have been subsidized by the universities that house them. University publishing has suited both scholars who need to publish and presses whose mission is to publish them. It has not rewarded clarity or beauty or timeliness, and it has not made a priority of satisfying readers or earning profits because it was not designed to do any of these things: it was designed to advance scholarship.”

Jill Lepore

The Power of Punctuation

An English professor wrote the following sentence on a chalkboard in class, and asked his students to punctuate it:

“A woman without her man is nothing.”

All the males wrote:

“A woman, without her man, is nothing.”

All the females wrote:

“A woman: without her, man is nothing.”


grok (v): to understand profoundly and intuitively

I strive to grok what differentiates good writing from bad writing.

The Semantics of Interviewing

“The phrase ‘told the Wall Street Journal’ (or ‘told’ another Dow Jones entity) still slips in here and there, but herewith is a reminder that we are to avoid the phrase, which can come off as self-serving to readers. It is redundant if the article already makes it clear that the person said something to us. Speaking of which, we don’t even need to say ‘in an interview’ if that is clear in context.”

The Wall Street Journal

How Do You Pronounce “GIF”?

The majority favors a hard “G” sound, as in “good,” but a vocal minority, including the inventor, insists the “G” is soft, as Jif peanut butter. The Oxford English Dictionary says either is fine.

The 9 Worst Cliches in PR

Via Shawn Paul Wood.

1. At the End of the Day. Let’s just wait until the sun goes down, and maybe Dracula or the Werewolf can kill the next person who says this doltish idiom.

2. Innovate. Since we are so big on this word, how about we please innovate another word that means “my client makes really cool stuff.”

3. Drill Down. Do you work in the petrochemical field? Fancy fracking much? What about a carpentry? Unless you plan to use said power tool, let go of this phrase.

4. Solution. This word is actually important when used correctly, because it’s fairly accurate and descriptive. Unfortunately, it doesn’t solve the need to consultant a thesaurus.

5. Stakeholder. At first, this mysterious person had a stake in the plan. Then, it was a share or a stake, because who knows?! Now, it’s like a bottlenecker driving next to a wreck.

6. Leader. We get it. Journalists get it too. You can’t say your client is “the best” because that sounds too haughty, so masking it as near the front of the pack will help. Only, it never does.

7. Take It Offline. You do realize you we were never online, right? Unless you’re having a chat via IM or Skype, just unplug it.

8. Low-Hanging Fruit. For the love of God, can we simply break this twig so that fruit can roll on down the hill and stop hanging. Set it free already.

9. Open the Kimono. Evidently, there is a rather large and spunky nudist colony in Kyoto because a few PR firms have been fascinated with someone’s private parts. Can we put a full-length trenchcoat on, please?

Fused Participle

Q: Which is correct:

“I appreciate you thinking of me.”


“I appreciate your thinking of me.”

A: “Your thinking of me” is always right. It’s both grammatically correct and stylistically preferred.

I was about to add that “you thinking of me” is always wrong—that is, it’s always ungrammatical and always “works less well” stylistically. But I just looked up the question in Garner’s Modern American Usage, and I’m only 80% right.

“You thinking of me” is called a fused participle. Garner says, “The possessive ought to be used whenever it is not unidiomatic or unnatural.” But he goes on to provide examples where the possessive would sound unnatural.

Don’t Call Terrorists “Masterminds”

“We agree with a recent column in Politico that mastermind when applied to terrorists is overused. Whether used for drama or just out of habit, the term is a cliché and also gives more credit to the terrorists than they usually deserve for their actions, which are certainly planned but hardly the stuff of genius or ‘extraordinary intellect,’ which is the dictionary meaning. People who direct the bombings and shootings can just as easily be called planners, leaders, ringleaders, organizers, plotters or directors of them.”

The Wall Street Journal

20 Masterfully Punny Tweets That Will Make You Laugh Out Loud

1. I’m writing a movie about horses with attitude. Its name: Straight Outta Clomptown

2. “You have to look at the big picture.” —Aggressive museum guard

3. *Submits manuscript to publisher.*

“Sir, is this a drawing of two pie charts having sex?”

“No, it’s a draft of my new graph-fuck novel.”

4. Headline about Chris Rock’s divorce:

Rock’s Papers Scissor Union

5. What idiot called him Alexander Graham Bell instead of the Lord of the Rings?

6. It was the busta rhymes, it was the wursta rhymes.

7. And good Jovi to you, sir.

8. “What should we call this thing in the ocean that is land?”

“How about island?”

“Seems too obvious.”

“What if we pronounced it weird?”


9. Welcome to Plastic Surgery Addicts Anonymous. I see a lot of new faces in the room this week, and I’m very disappointed with you all.”

10. Hey, thanks for defining the word “many” for me. It means a lot.

11. I’ll never forget where I was the day I figured out how to read maps.

12. Kanye West is opening a breakfast restaurant. Its name: Omelette You Finish.

13. Why are they called “territorial disputes” and not “ground beef”?

14. What idiot named them “jet skis” instead of “boatercycles”?

15. John Wilkes Photo Booth takes amazing headshots.

16. I sneezed, and someone responded by giving me a pair of those glasses with the fake nose and mustache attached. It was a blessing in disguise.

17. And the award for best neckwear goes to... Well, would you look at that—it’s a tie.

18. What idiot called it “car repair” instead of “autocorrect”?

19. “I piy the fool!” —Missed a “T”

20. What idiot called it a “vet” instead of “dogtor”?


not only, but also

Q: I was taught, or read, that when you start a sentence with “not only,” the subsequent “but” needs to be accompanied by an “also.” So: “Not only X, but also Y.”

Yet two recent examples, from high-profile publications, omit the “also”:

1. John Heilemann, “Bush’s Big Bomb,” Bloomberg Politics, October 29, 2015:

“What the night required of him, what everyone was watching for, was a demonstration that, despite the myriad troubles that have plagued him months, he could still be the guy: the candidate with the performance skills and the fortitude not just to survive but to thrive under pressure.”

2. Michael Kinsley, “The Courage to Act,” New York Times Sunday Book Review, October 8, 2015:

“If the government stood by and did nothing, the result would be catastrophic not just for those directly involved but for the entire economy.”

What say you?

A: Garner just wrote about this in his October 22 daily tip:

These correlative conjunctions must frame syntactically identical sentence parts—e.g.: “It not only will save construction costs but also the cost of land acquisition and demolition.” Donna Leslie, “Stadium Belongs on the Riverfront,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 23 Nov. 1997, at D3. (A possible revision: “It will save not only construction costs but also the cost of land acquisition and demolition.” The conjunctions correctly frame two noun phrases.)

One common issue in “not only” constructions is whether it’s permissible to omit the “also” after “but.” The answer is yes, the result being a casualism—e.g.: “[Perret] seeks to secure Grant’s reputation not only as a successful general but as a military genius.” Eric Foner, “The Very Good Soldier,” New York Times, 7 Sept. 1997, Section 7, at 13. So how do you decide whether to include “also” (which will always result in a correct construction)? It’s merely a matter of euphony and formality: let your ear and your sense of natural idiom help you decide in a given sentence.

Another way to complete the construction is “not only . . . but . . . as well.” But a writer who uses this phrasing should not add “also,” which is redundant with “as well”—e.g.: “Feminist methods and insights [must] be adopted not only by female scholars, but also by males as well.” J.M. Balkin, “Turandot’s Victory,” 2 Yale J. Law and Humanities 299, 302 (1990). In that sentence, “also” should have been omitted.

No comma is usually needed between the “not only” and “but also” elements, and—as the last citation above shows—to put one in merely introduces an awkward break.

Addendum (12/27/2015): Here’s another example, from the New Yorker, that temple of godly grammar:

3. Anthony Lane, “Doing the Right Thing,” New Yorker, November 9, 2015:

“To stop them turning, in the interests of justice, takes not only guts but imagination.”

Addendum (1/19/2016): From Slate:

4. Will Oremus, “Who Controls Your Facebook Feed,” Slate, January 3, 2016:

“Facebook’s news feed algorithm has shaped not only what we read and how we keep in touch, but how the media frame stories to catch our attention.”

Addendum (2/12/2016): From Time:

5. Nancy Gibbs and Callie Schweitzer, “Meet Motto, Time’s New Site for Advice Worth Sharing,” Time, February 11, 2016:

“They are drawn not only to Time’s coverage of the world but increasingly to Time’s content on how to live a richer, smarter, more meaningful life—how to negotiate a raise, how to manage your inbox, how to actually unplug on vacation.”

communications. communication

In August, I emailed Merriam-Webster the following question. Assistant Editor Emily Vezina replied. (If you can figure this out, youre smarter than I am.)

Q: Can you help me understand the difference between “communications” and “communication,” and when to use which?

For example, do I work in the field of strategic “communications,” or strategic “communication”? Do I help clients polish their “communications” skills, or their “communication” skills? Do I run a digital “communications” firm, or a digital “communication” firm?

I came across this article, but don’t quite understand its explanation—other than that there’s a big difference between these two words, and that I should know it.

A: “Communication” often refers to the simple exchange of information and ideas between people. Here are a few examples from two of our websites ( and

  • There was a breakdown in communication between members of the group
  • Parents need to have good communication with their children [they need to be able to understand and be understood by their children]
  • nonverbal communication
  • communication problems/skills
  • from many college/university websites, some form of “Department of Communication and Journalism”

“Communications” (plural) is typically used to describe the following:

  • the field of study of how information is sent to people using technology
  • He majored in communications. (NB: More and more colleges and universities seem to be using the singular to name the department that teachers this subject matter, but I am still seeing more examples of “communications major” rather than “communication major”)
  • the actual technology and ways of sending information
  • radio/wireless/electronic communications
  • a communications satellite (a satellite that is used to send signals for television, radio, etc., to people around the world)
  • the office or personnel at a school or business that is in charge of communicating information to the larger world outside of the organization

An example is Harvard’s Public Affairs and Communications (HPAC) office. Here is the description of their role from their website:

“Harvard Public Affairs and Communications manages and facilitates the University’s relationships with neighboring communities; local, state, and federal government; the media; and the general public. HPAC advances information and communications related to the University’s mission of excellence in teaching, learning, and research through a variety of managed channels and other means including the University’s homepage, the Harvard Gazette, and Harvard’s Information Center.”

Notice the use of “communications” in the description of HPAC. To complicate matters further, “communication” singular can refer to a message or an instance of communicating. It can, therefore, be used in the plural (as it is here) as well as in the singular.

As for your direct questions about your business, without knowing the context of what you do, your individual questions are difficult to answer. If your clients are individual people, I would say that that you help clients polish their communication skills. If your clients are institutions of some kind (schools, businesses, etc.), I’d use “communications skills.” The same basic concept applies to the other two issues as well.

The Rules of English Are Meant to Be a Guide, Not a Straightjacket


Daisy, why don’t you come home with us, and live with me and Colleen for a while?

Colleen and me.

Colleen and me.

What’s your aversion to proper grammar?

Rhythm, maybe.

Leaves of Grass

think. believe

Earlier this month, I emailed Merriam-Webster the following question. Associate Editor Jennifer N. Cislo replied.

Q: A friend once insisted that “believe” and “think” carry different implications. For example:

If I “believe” that cats are better than dogs, she argued, I suspect it’s true. But if I “think” that cats are better than dogs, I’m certain it’s true.

Is there any truth to this distinction? If not, are the verbs completely interchangeable?

A: A person could parse out these subtleties of meaning. However, for the most part, these words are used by English speakers interchangeably.

In other words, it could be argued that “believe” means “to think it so” without the certainty of the word “think.” But it can also be argued, for instance, if someone were to say “I think it’s spelled that way,” that the someone is saying they “suspect” that’s the correct spelling.

ought. should

Earlier this month, I emailed Merriam-Webster the following question. Editorial Assistant Serenity Carr replied.

Q: Is there any real difference between should and ought? If I tell you that you “ought” clean the house, does that imply the same level of suggestion or seriousness as if I told you that you “should” clean the house?

A: The auxiliaries ought and should are both entered in our dictionaries with usage notes. Ought is “used to express moral obligation, duty, or necessity,” and should is “used . . . to express duty, obligation, necessity, propriety, or expediency.”

The following is found in the synonym discussion at ought in our Unabridged Dictionary:

Ought and should are often interchangeable and imply the compulsion of obligation, ought more commonly suggesting duty or moral constraint, should applying more to the obligation of fitness, propriety, or expediency.”

Brilliant Speeches From the Movies

Thanks to my friend Kevin for identifying and describing these.

1. Star Trek
The famous—or infamous—“risk is our business” speech from William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, delivered in his patented halting, staccato, rapid burst delivery.

2. War and Remembrance
Sir John Gielgud, as Aaron Jastrow, recounts the story of Job to Jews imprisoned Jews at Thiersenstadt (“the paradise ghetto”), most of whom were shipped to Nazi concentration camps and gassed.

3. The Twilight Zone
Rod Serling’s closing narration to the famous Twilight Zone episode, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”

4. The Twilight Zone
Rod Serling’s closing narration to the famous Twilight Zone episode, “Walking Distance.”


Last week, I emailed Merriam-Webster the following question. Associate Editor Jennifer N. Cislo replied.

Q: “Slick,” as an adjective, seems to have two contradictory meanings:

1. clever in usually a dishonest or deceptive way

2. skillful

Can you clarify? If I tell someone he’s slick, he could rightly construe that as a compliment or an insult, right?

A: You are correct: a statement like that could be construed in either of two ways, as a compliment or as an insult. In a case like this, it really is the context and the situation that suggests the meaning intended.

That’s the wonder of the English language. While words have literal meanings, a communication can be very nuanced.

Corporate Communication at Its Best: Short, Straightforward, Candid

1. The Garage Light
Bring your garage or workshop out of the dark ages with the Garage Light. Hit it with a hammer, whack it with a golf club, hell, run into it with a truck—this light’s going to keep on shining. It’s designed to be durable, efficient and easy-to-install, so it’s the last light your space will ever need. You can even forget about flipping switches—our optional occupancy sensor does it automatically.

The Garage Light is the perfect fixture for any size garage, large or small—but you want to make sure you’re lighting it right! Here’s our basic guidelines:

For typical garages with ceilings up to about 14 ft, you’ll need one Garage Light per car bay. (Single-car garage? Get one light. Two-car? Get two. Sixteen-car? Hot damn, get 16.)

For garages with high ceilings—14 ft or above—just double that. So if you’ve got a single-car garage, get two fixtures; if you have a two-car garage, get four; and for that 16-car garage, grab 32 fixtures. Simple!

2. Less Is More: You’re About to Receive Less Email From LinkedIn
Many of you have told us that you receive too many emails from LinkedIn. We’re also not immune to the late night talk show host jokes. We get it. And we’ve recently begun to make changes so that the emails you receive are more infrequent and more relevant.

Here are two of the most recent examples:

  • If you are getting too many invitations to connect, we have begun to send you a single weekly digest in place of individual emails.
  • If you subscribe to several LinkedIn Groups, we are aggregating the updates from those groups into a single email.

The results so far have been very encouraging. For every 10 emails we used to send, we’ve removed 4 of them. Already, member complaints have been cut in half. And this is just the beginning.

We also want to remind you that we provide the ability to control which emails you want to receive at your desired frequency. All of our emails have an unsubscribe link at the bottom, and you can visit your Settings page to manage your email experience to your liking.

When it comes to your inbox, the message has been received: less is more. We welcome your feedback as we continue to make improvements.

3. Crumbs and Whiskers House Rules

  • Be gentle. And remember that cats are curious, so they will naturally come to you.
  • Cats are… cats. If something goes wrong, please don’t sue the humans. To be safe, we ask that you sign a liability waiver before you visit.
  • Cats eat cat food. People eat people food. Let’s keep it that way.
  • Please don’t wake a sleeping cat. They hate it.
  • Just like us, cats have “stranger danger” instincts too—please don’t pick up cats. It keeps you safe, and the cats stress free.
  • Flash photography hurts. But general photography is awesome.

Addendum (9/27/2015): More corporatese in plain language:

4. Apple

We’re pleased that you want to invest your talents and time to develop applications for iOS. It has been a rewarding experience - both professionally and financially - for hundreds of thousands of developers and we want to help you join this successful group. We have published our App Store Review Guidelines in the hope that they will help you steer clear of issues as you develop your App and speed you through the approval process when you submit it.

We view Apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical App. It can get complicated, but we have decided to not allow certain kinds of content in the App Store. It may help to keep some of our broader themes in mind:

  • We have lots of kids downloading lots of Apps. Parental controls work great to protect kids, but you have to do your part too. So know that we’re keeping an eye out for the kids.
  • We have over a million Apps in the App Store. If your App doesn’t do something useful, unique or provide some form of lasting entertainment, or if your app is plain creepy, it may not be accepted.
  • If your App looks like it was cobbled together in a few days, or you’re trying to get your first practice App into the store to impress your friends, please brace yourself for rejection. We have lots of serious developers who don’t want their quality Apps to be surrounded by amateur hour.
  • We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, “I’ll know it when I see it”. And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.
  • If your App is rejected, we have a Review Board that you can appeal to. If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps.
  • If you attempt to cheat the system (for example, by trying to trick the review process, steal data from users, copy another developer’s work, or manipulate the ratings) your Apps will be removed from the store and you will be expelled from the developer program.
  • This is a living document, and new Apps presenting new questions may result in new rules at any time. Perhaps your App will trigger this.

Lastly, we love this stuff too, and honor what you do. We’re really trying our best to create the best platform in the world for you to express your talents and make a living too. If it sounds like we’re control freaks, well, maybe it’s because we’re so committed to our users and making sure they have a quality experience with our products. Just like almost all of you are, too.

When Style Trumps Substance

Most namers will tell you, as Paola Norambuena puts it, that a “great name can’t fix a bad product. A great product can fix a bad name.” Accenture was met with derision for reminding people of dentures. Gap was an empty space. Yelp was a dog in pain. The iPad was confused with a tampon. Now these names have no odd connotations at all, thanks to the success of the things they name.

The Weird Science of Naming New Products

Frame the Conversation

Has Become This
estate tax
death tax
government takeover of healthcare
Department of War
Department of Defense
enhanced interrogation techniques
dolphin fish
mahi mahi
Patagonian toothfish
Chilean sea bass
dried plums

Addendum (8/4/2015): A Renegade Trawler, Hunted for 10,000 Miles by Vigilantes:

“Consumer demand for toothfish skyrocketed in the 1980s and 1990s after a Los Angeles-based seafood wholesaler decided to rename the oily fish Chilean sea bass to make it more appealing to the American market. An ugly bottom dweller, found only in the earth’s coldest waters, the toothfish can grow over six feet long and weigh more than 250 pounds. The rebranding worked a little too well. More fishing boats targeted toothfish, and now some scientists say that its population is disappearing at an unsustainable rate, though it is unclear how fast.”

Write for an Audience of One

Second to his investing brilliance, Warren Buffet is known for having a deep-rooted respect for clear communication within companies. His shareholder letters are so well written that they’re considered the gold standard for the medium.

Buffet’s secret: he writes with one of his sisters in mind. His sister, while highly intelligent, has little experience with investing. If he sees a passage that will confuse her, he knows he hasn’t written it properly.

Novelist Stephen King suggests the same approach. He pictures his wife combing through each line. Where would she become bored, laugh, be surprised, or skim? He knew the answer because he knew the reader. John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut, and others have also advocated this approach.

  • “Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader.” —John Steinbeck

  • “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” —Kurt Vonnegut

  • “Writing to delight a single person whose tastes you understand is practical; writing to appease a faceless audience whose tastes you will never know is impossible.” —Gregory Ciotti

  • Christopher Buckley says that he senses William Zinsser perched on his shoulder like a parrot when he sits down to write. The parrot always says to look for needless verbiage.

leitmotif. motif

Last week, I emailed Merriam-Webster the following question. Associate Editor Neil Serven replied.

Q: motif means “a dominant idea or central theme.” leitmotif means “a dominant recurring theme.” So, how do these two words differ?

A: In extended use, “motif” and “leitmotif” have very similar meanings.

“Motif” suggests an idea that recurs like a pattern (as in design or architecture), but there is enough extended use that flattens the word to mean simply “theme”:

In retrospect, it is now clear that the alien invasion motif in 1950s science fiction movies reflected the Cold War atmosphere of the period.—Paul A. Cantor, Gilligan Unbound, 2001

Apart from giving us a great deal of new information on the Holloways, Ricketts argues very convincingly for a motif of abandonment in much of Kipling’s writing, including the Jungle Books, Kim and Captains Courageous.—Elizabeth Lowry, Times Literary Supplement, 19 Feb 1999

“Leitmotif” is a term originating from opera; it referred to a recurring melody that played along with a character or allusion to a theme whenever one or the other appeared on stage. Its extended use doesn’t follow up from the original as fluidly as “motif” does, but it does share with “motif” the meaning of simply “a recurring theme”:

Conspiracies are a leitmotif of talk radio, even its organizing principle-the bond that unites millions of voters, each in a separate car, driving and listening and, from time to time, pounding the steering wheel in frustration.—James Ridgeway, Village Voice, 14 June 1994

Ms. Silverthorne suggests in “Sojourner at Cross Creek” that a leitmotif of Rawlings’s life was betrayal or the fear of it, an anxiety that developed following the end of her first marriage, in 1933, and lasting the rest of her life.—Jerome Griswold, New York Times Book Review, 20 Nov. 1988

I would say that the two words are practically synonymous, though “leitmotif,” due to its origins and particularly its ties to narrative, might be more likely to be found in literary or academic contexts. I think more than a few writers use it as a fancy-sounding substitute for “motif.”

Candor Beats Jargon Every Time

Simon Owens points us to this remarkably candid statement from Reddit:

“We know many of you will wonder what happened to /r/politics and /r/atheism and why they were removed from the default set. We could give you a canned corporate answer or a diplomatic answer that is carefully crafted for the situation. But since this is reddit, we’re going to try things a bit differently and give you the real answer: they just weren’t up to snuff. Now, don’t get us wrong, there still are good parts about them. Overall, they just haven’t continued to grow and evolve like the other subreddits we’ve decided to add.”

Related: The Candid, Commendable Way to Announce You Were Just Fired

off of

Rose needles David about the amount of money he reaped off of Seinfeld in syndication.

Rose needles David about the amount of money he reaped off Seinfeld in syndication.

Rose needles David about the amount of money he reaped from Seinfeld in syndication.

Larry David Woefully “Regrets” His Broadway Debut in Fish in the Dark

Addendum (6/10/2015): The Wall Street Journal calls the phrase “off of” grating and substandard.

You Are How You Punctuate

“Digital punctuation can carry more weight than traditional writing because it ends up conveying tone, rhythm and attitude rather than grammatical structure.”

Ben Zimmer

lectern. podium

lectern: what public speakers stand behind

podium: a raised platform, such as what Olympic medalists stand upon as well as speakers who don’t need the protection of a lectern

Style & Substance

Damn Fine Writing

“Leading network news anchor Brian Williams has been placed on double-public probation by NBC News for six months, and won’t likely return to his throne. Meanwhile, over on the cable end of the dial, top news-jester Jon Stewart has told Comedy Central he’s done with the big chair and wants to do something else. Their coincidentally simultaneous exits have created something akin to a full employment act for the press corps—with endless news coverage from the hard-news guys and reflections and verdicts from members of the commentariat. Even I got two columns out of the Williams affair, and at the urging my editors, here I am on my third!”

Jack Shafer

Why You Need an Editor

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” —James Michener

“Writing is one percent inspiration, and 99% inspiration.” —Louise Brooks

“The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lighting and the lightning bug.” —Mark Twain

The Dying Art of Proofreading

Did I Read That Sign Right?

In a Laundromat

In a London Department Store

In an Office

In an Office

Outside a Secondhand Shop

In a Health-Food Shop Window

In a Safari Park

During a Conference

In a Farmer's Field

On a Leaflet

On a Repair-Shop Door


Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter
How's that possible?

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says
Really? Ya think?

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
Now that's taking things a bit far!

Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
What a guy!

Miners Refuse to Work after Death
No-good-for-nothing' lazy so-and-so's!

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
See if that works better than a fair trial!

War Dims Hope for Peace
I can see where it might have that effect!

If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile
Ya think?

Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
Who would have thought!

Enfield [London] Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
They may be on to something!

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges
You mean there's something stronger than duct tape?

Man Struck by Lightning; Faces Battery Charge
He probably is the battery charge!

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
Weren't they fat enough?!

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
That's what he gets for eating those beans!

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
Do they taste like chicken?

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
Chainsaw massacre all over again!

Hospitals Are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
Boy, are they tall!

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
Did I read that right?

Bad Writing Wastes Millions and Millions of Hours

“Thirty students send me attachments named ‘psych assignment.doc.’ I go to a website for a trusted-traveler program and have to decide whether to click on GOES, Nexus, GlobalEntry, Sentri, Flux or FAST—bureaucratic terms that mean nothing to me. My apartment is cluttered with gadgets that I can never remember how to use because of inscrutable buttons which may have to be held down for one, two or four seconds, sometimes two at a time, and which often do different things depending on invisible ‘modes’ toggled by still other buttons.”

Steven Pinker

The Headline Pun Hall of Fame

Complaints about the overuse of puns
Shun Puns? No, Hon. More Pun-Ishment Coming!
Action-movie special-effects detonation experts
Business Is Booming!
The funeral industry
Is Death a Laughing Matter? Of Corpse Not!
Journalists who want to be forced to testify against sources, so they can decline, and be heroes
Subpoenas Envy
A plumber who used only a plunger and his own massive strength to relieve a toilet clog after an industrial-strength machine snake had failed
A Modern-Day John Henry, a Stool-Drivin’ Man
The guy whose job was to empty porta-potties
Waste Is a Terrible Thing to Mind
The guy whose job it was to watch parolees pee into cups during drug tests
Looking Out for Number One